I have reached the extent of what I can do riding backwards in my little training frame. I have a feel for it now and it is time I tried in a bigger space before I end up learning to stop automatically after one revolution.
I will put on all my protective gear and I am contemplating a big back pad including anti penetration layers in case of falling backwards. My main worry is falling back on the uni and getting a pedal in the back.
Can anyone offer advice on techniques to ensure unplanned dismounts while learning to ride backwards are as safe a possible?
In my experience I haven’t found learning to ride backwards a dangerous one in the sense of injuring yourself (I learnt it in a freestyle unicycle). Whilst you ride slowly I think you might be ok (if you ride slowly you seem to have time to land on your feet if you feel that you are about to loose control…). I think the main thing to overcome is how disorientating is to ride backwards whilst facing forward… I have fallen off on my back plenty of times learning other tricks (riding left footed and doing ‘rolling’ drops from a height) but not riding backwards.
Actually I have fallen off on my back when riding forward whilst daydreaming (got distracted and somehow my feet got caught in the pedal…)
I have never used any protection on my back so can’t advise what is best for it… The problem is that if you fall on your back you might either fall flat on it or you might land on your butt… Also you can hurt your neck with the ‘whiplash effect’ if it is a bad fall (that happened to me: I don’t know if you could prevent the whiplash injury with any standard protection gear…)
Actually I think the main concern if you fall backwards is to break the fall. If you ride slowly and you see it coming and break the fall with your arms etc… you will be ok regardless of the protection gear on your back (I find the intengrated wrist guards/gloves KH style great for falls…).
The falls on my back where I really injured myself were the ones I didn’t expect at all: they happened so fast that I didn’t react quickly enough (don’t think protection would have made much difference in those as I torn something (ligament/muscle) anyway because of the direct impact on concrete and the whiplash effect of my neck automatically contracting to avoid hitting my head).
Some of my hardest falls were when learning/practicing riding backwards. Seems like I fell off the back a lot.
Here are my suggestions:
Use smooth pedals, not pinned. When you start to go off the back, you need to get your feet off the pedals and underneath you fast. If your feet stick to the pedals, you’re way more likely to go down hard.
Wear elbow guards and a helmet with good rear protection (skateboard style). If I happen to go down full-force backwards, I land on my elbows and my head hits the ground. Sometimes hard enough that the snap-on visor comes flying off.
Fortunately, the “major fall” period doesn’t last that long. Although I’m still not a very good backwards rider, it’s been a long time since I’ve had a full-on fall while doing it. Now I just step off the back. (But I still wear head and elbow protection – you never know!)
Backward riding is not a particularly hazardous activity once you get the hang of it. When I was getting started, I once experienced a sort of runaway train effect: I lost my balance and had to pedal faster and faster to regain it. I didn’t fall, but if I had, it would have been nasty. Another time, before I had learned to look back, I collided with a beam lying on the ground, but fortunately for me it was the edge of a large sandbox, so even though I went down hard, I was unhurt. I did thrash a couple of sets of cranks learning to ride backward, though. Be sure your pedals are screwed on securely, and check them every now and then to make sure they stay that way.
I don’t think that’s a big issue for learning to ride backward, you are more likely to come off the back and not be able to catch yourself.
Yes. Practice them. Just as learning to ride forward teaches us how to handle dismounts off the front, learning to ride backward should include concentration on how to dismount off the back (while going backwards). Practice this specifically (more on this below).
Great advice! Though I did all of my early learning in my teens and 20s, before ‘helmets were invented’
I think this happens to nearly everybody as they get more confident with their backwards riding. Think that scenario through… and plan for it. Two things you need to think about. First is how fast you want to be going when you dismount going backwards, which is probably not that fast. Second is, then, how to bail when you’ve already speeded up?
Practice the technique of big steps to the rear. This is where the non-pinned pedals also pay off. To counter your rearward speed, you’re going to want to take long steps, in the effort of getting your feet out behind you so you can slow down. This either happens in the first 2-3 steps or doesn’t, usually. It only works if you spend some time training yourself to do it.
That’s definitely a good idea if you are concentrating on just going backward. But if you’re mixing it in with forward riding, better to just keep a wrench handy, and check the pedals for tightness after every hour or so of practice.
When going backward, your balance is the same. But a couple of major things are not the same. First the obvious: your head is facing the wrong way. Second is that your body is oriented the wrong way as well. Your body is made to go forward, and is pretty awkward at going backward. Your waist bends forward, but not so much to the rear. We often make deep bends at the waist to catch ourselves when riding forward; this doesn’t work when going backward. So when possible, keep your speed at or below a brisk walking pace until you get more solid at doing it.
We used to do Backwards races. 50 meters. Eventually it was removed from the Track roster because of the obviousness of the danger level, going as fast as possible in reverse. And this was before 90% of racers were open to the idea of helmets.
Lots of good advice given already. I almost broke my wrist trying to brake my fall on an unplanned dismount riding backwards. After that I bought wrist protectors and made sure not to ride too fast. I then realized I was in much better control if I maintained a nice slow to medium pace.
I would also recommend practicing in a vacant school parking lot or someplace similar that has lots of open space, no traffic and good smooth pavement. You want to be able to focus on technique and not have to worry about traffic or crashing because you went off course.
I decided to give it a go tonight and it wasn’t near as scary as I had build it up to be in my mind. The worst was what seemed to be a magnetic attraction between the front saddle bumper and the back of my right calf.
I was surprised at the strength of the instinct not ride where I could not see even though I knew there were no obstacles for more revolutions than I could achieve even under the most miraculous circumstances.
Alas, I had already learnt to stop after one revolution from practice in my idling frame but I did get past it once or twice in someway toward hundred attempts. Main problem was continuing to keep the weight leaning backwards.
This was on a 20 inch with 100 mm cranks which I have done most of my frame practice on. Next I will try the 24 inch with 125 cranks which I also used on my last frame session. I actually did a better job on the 24 in the frame than I had on the 20 even though I have never tried the 24 backwards before so I am fairly optimistic.
I know exactly what you’re going through, Onetrackmind. I recently had to overcome that terrible fear of falling backwards while practicing going backwards. It seemed I was stuck forever going backwards only 15 feet before a UPD or dismount because of how scary it felt.
The main thing that helped me overcome my fear was to simply practice going backwards a lot. Going backwards slowly became less scary the more I got used to it, and the more I figured out how to safely come off while going backwards. I took a few nasty falls while going too fast, but didn’t badly injure myself. Oh and remember to take deep breaths!
Knowing how to idle is also a big help. It’s definitely a good idea to mix up backwards and idling practice since the two skills are closely related.
Safety gear is also very important.
I’ve improved greatly since coming off that plateau nearly 2 months ago: I can go backwards for as much as 1/5 of a mile doing big circles around a tennis court or parking lot, and can sometimes do backwards figure 8s, though I still often screw up.
I think visualizing yourself doing it before you do it is also a big help. Good luck to you!
Maybe learning with much longer cranks and progressively choosing shorter ones would be the trick.
With long cranks (140 on the 20, 160 on the 24) you have much more controle at low speed and I find it makes backward riding easier and less scary.
How would you do that? You fall of to the back- your uni is in front of you, you fall of to the front, your uni is behind you. Your unicycle will always move away from the direction you are falling, no reason to worry at all.
I believe you are massively overthinking everything (as you already have seemed to notice) .
Learning to fall is an important part of learning to unicycle though, for all you guys scared of falling out there.